Builder Basics: Drawer-making Details
Drawers are some of the most useful furniture components we can build. You can make them in several ways with various corner joints. Here are some considerations.
Building drawers can bring out huge differences in maker philosophies. My friend and master woodworker Ian Kirby tells me that building a drawer was one of the most important construction tasks in the British Arts & Crafts furniture-making movement. When completed, the handmade drawer would fit perfectly in its opening to such a degree that when pushed in, it would cause a small audible rush of air. (Ian likens it to a piston in a cylinder.)
On the other hand, the late Mike McGlynn, a full-time woodworker, would just glue and nail drawer boxes together with butt joints. When I wondered about it, he boldly said, "They are bombproof. Purists be damned!"
The most basic drawer consists of five components: two sides, a front and back and a bottom. The drawing above is an example of that simple form. Sometimes a separate drawer face is added to hide the drawer opening or the slide hardware.
But even with the most basic configuration, there are many options to be considered. How to join the corners is key among them.
Dovetailed corners have a long tradition of representing premium corner joints. For hundreds of years, those handmade joints secured corners and looked great doing it. Through, half-blind (also called single lap) and "secret" mitered dovetail variations all provide solid mechanical joints that will keep on working even after the glue fails. And that is one of the primary reasons that the joint was designed and used for so long. Hide or fish glues were not as durable as our modern glues, and the joinery had to accommodate that fact.
These joints also have the added benefit of being easier for novices to make than hand-cut dovetails. Drawer-lock joints can be made with one router bit. Box joints or rabbet-and-dado joints are also relatively easy to mill on either a table saw or router table.
Bottom Panel Options
If you have ever looked at the solid wood bottom of an antique drawer, you will likely notice that the grain runs side to side in the drawer. The panel fits in a groove and slides into place beneath the drawer back. This way, the bottom can swell and shrink under the drawer back freely. Like frame-and-panel doors, this was an elegant solution for the materials at hand.
Now drawer bottoms are most often made of plywood or other sheetstock that do not expand and contract. Dimensional stability allows the panel to be captured inside the drawer box frame and work just fine.
Solutions for Sliding
Drawers are mostly installed on several styles of metal drawer slides these days. Slides are durable, adjustable and often provide full access to the drawer’s interior. But drawers have also been sliding in and out of their openings on waxed wooden ways for centuries and are still going strong.